Learning through such play develops embodied cognition and the foundations for literacy and numeracy understandings.
Practising with loose parts
In classrooms, once underlying concepts and skills are taught, children can extend and practice these through centre or station play where child choice, imagination and creativity direct and drive activities like tinkering, taking apart structures and playing with loose parts. Blocks, puzzles and everyday objects like clothes pegs, tweezers, measuring devices, scissors, pencils and crayons are all part of the teacher’s play toolbox in the early years’ classroom.
With some flexibility, these strategies can be adjusted for children in kindergarten up to Grade 2. They can be transferred and extended to imaginative activities like post office (recognising names and numbers) or grocery store (reading labels and lists) or dress-up and socio-dramatic play.
There will always be a range of children’s readiness for learning. Especially in COVID-19 recovery, teachers will need to adapt and accommodate, and be smart at planning games and play activities through an assessment lens, and planning the instructional cycle accordingly.
Importance of dialogic talk
Talking with children is also critical when they are involved in guided play as a way of helping them to develop their language and world knowledge.
Adults can strategically introduce more words relevant to academic learning (“academic words”) when children are involved in guided play: For example, words like “construct” or “structure” versus “build” when playing with blocks. The words can be accompanied by a definition, a synonym and paraphrasing by saying: “In other words …”
Other times, adult talk needs to be more explicit and direct when children are involved in guided play. Some examples could be explaining a learning or memory strategy while playing a card game or dealing with numeracy concepts when playing a linear board game. What researchers call “math talk,” and understanding of the rules of the game matters in transitioning to more independent play and practice with their peers.
Embedding questions that involve making an inference or a prediction, inviting the back and forth of collaborative and elaborative “ping-pong” conversations further support children’s language development, cognition, understanding of their world and their place in it.